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Ink Slingers Jaclyn Respect Life Testimonials

Neonatal Nurses: Caring for the most vulnerable in our world when they emerge too soon

On January 31, 2010 I gave birth to two beautiful baby girls 8 weeks early.  Although one of them never came home, I owe every moment I spent with Samantha, who passed away when they were 5 weeks 5 days old, to the neonatal nurses who cared for her every day and every night of her life.  I know that caring for my babies was more than a job for them.

 

These caregivers loved my daughters.

Preemies are babies born before 37 weeks.  They need very intense assistance to live.  This care is provided in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  Let me introduce you to the NICU where these angels do their work everyday.

First you walk through a waiting room and there is a sink for washing your hands before you enter.  This is not your usual hand washing though. 

There are brushes available and instructions about how much time you should spend on each part of your hand and forearms. 

 

Take off your jewelry.

Scrub front back and between fingers and all the way up to the elbow.

Then you put some antibacterial gel on your hands and you may enter.  No children allowed, and only parents and grandparents are permitted depending on the hospital.  A nurse checks your hospital bracelet until they get to know your face.

 

There are cribs and incubators spaced out along the walls and little curtains that you can pull for privacy when nursing.  There are even rocking chairs and breast pumps available.  Small windows up high let some light in but there is not a “viewing” window for visitors like the regular nursery.

The first time I saw my babies was terrifying.

 

They were so tiny and sprawled out in incubators.  Touching them was prohibited except during feeding time because of the stress it put on their fragile bodies.  When I finally got to hold them I needed help to pick them up because of the monitor wires were connected to them and the nasal cannulas, tubes in their noses, which were helping them breathe.  Mostly it is quiet, cool and dim.  These babies need a womb environment and only the beeping of the monitor’s alarms and an occasional baby cry interrupts.

In the NICU each nurse cares for many babies, depending on the level of care required and how many babies are there at the time.  They change diapers, heat bottles, feed, burb, and hold babies.  In addition they check temperatures and keep track of any problems to which the monitors alert them.

Then there is the love they administer.  Gentle soothing voices caressed the little babies’ ears.  Sweet comforting touches told them they weren’t alone.  The nurses made signs for my daughters to put on their incubators announcing their arrival.  They made a little sign for Hannah to celebrate her reaching 4 lbs and celebrating Samantha’s return to the hospital where Hannah was.  They took pictures of them and gave them to us.  And when Samantha passed away, they came to her funeral.  These are only a few of the things we saw and I know many happened when we were away.

Another full time job these nurses perform is parental care.  Teaching specialized preemie care and explaining strange words like bradycardia.  Also, they are counselors. I asked them within the first few days, how do you recommend I handle juggling two babies here in the NICU and a 2 year old at home?  They gave helpful suggestions and pointed out that I would be no good to my babies when they came home if I didn’t rest and take care of myself.  They always smiled and asked how I was doing.  They offered me every opportunity to mommy my babies.  They gave me privacy when I needed it while making themselves available to help.

Then there is the trauma factor.  When Samantha got sick the day she would die, it was a nurse who recognized her sickness and comforted her as she suffered.  It was a nurse who explained to us clearly and compassionately what was happening to our baby.  A nurse brought us drinks as we sat alone in the waiting room in shock as they prepped her to transport back to a level III NICU.

Neonatal nurses celebrated life with us and did the backbreaking work that it takes for babies at that stage to survive.  They mourned with us in death when our little Samantha didn’t make it.  I know they loved both our babies.  I know they won’t forget them.  We are facebook friends with many of them now and I try to take Hannah to visit and send them cards with pictures when I can.  I will never forget the gift these special nurses gave our family.  Sometimes it must be heartbreaking for the nurses to accompany parents on the traumatic NICU ride.   I’m sure there were many times I was less than polite and they were kind and understanding.  The constant care and kindness they offered was invaluable to my family.

Today is Neonatal Nurse Appreciation Day.  Although many people don’t know who they are, these are very special people who help some of the most vulnerable in our world.  These are the unborn that became born too soon.  Miracles happen even for micro-preemies (babies born at less than 1 lb 14 oz) with the hands of these amazing nurses.  The healing that happens when nurses are willing to grieve along with you at the loss of a little person is so precious.

I personally would like to thank the NICU nurses at Round Rock Medical Center and at St. David’s in Austin.  Expect some cookies today from ^Samantha^ and Hannah and their family.

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Shiela

The Beauty of Truth

I plucked a red pepper out of the garden yesterday.  It was well formed with rounded quadrants at the top and bottom.  The skin was soft, smooth and ruby red.  The stem was perky and green and still had a leaf attached.  It had a scent of pepper mingling with sweetness.  It was simply beautiful.  It sits on my window sill and I gaze at it when I am at the sink.  I tend to put small beautiful things on my window sill.  A small painted animal or a miniature vase of flowers from the yard.  I spend a lot of time in my kitchen and I like to surround myself with beautiful things.   Making beautiful things gives me great pleasure, too. When I cook, I am aware of the color and presentation of the food as much as the taste.  I consider the color of the platter and how it will complement my entree.  There is something about beauty, wherever it is found, that captivates us and makes us pause for a moment.  But, what is in that moment?  Why do we desire beauty in our lives?

My appreciation for beauty in art led me to Florence, Italy when I was in college. There,  I had the opportunity to explore the San Marco Monastery in Florence, a former monastery turned museum.  In the hallways and on each dormitory wall, Fra Angelico, had painted a fresco depicting moments in Christ’s life.  I stood in each nearly empty dorm and imagined what it must have been like to awaken in this spartan room to nothing but walls, the floor and a beautiful fresco.   The intent of the fresco was to put each monk into the contemplative, peaceful mindset that is required of their vocation.  These colors and lines and symbols telling the story of our Lord gave an ethereal richness to the impoverished life of these monks.  In the enclosed courtyard of the monastery, another monk was tasked with maintaining a beautiful rose garden.  Each plant was carefully tended to produce a perfect rose.  Others spent their days creating manuscripts with elegant calligraphy and illuminations.  I left the monastery thinking that it was as if they traded all the fleeting treasures of this  secular world to live amidst the beauty of  eternal truth.

The life of Christ has inspired some of the most magnificent works of beauty known to man.  A beauty that is set apart from a secular idea of beauty that only seeks to display an individual’s wealth or to celebrate the empty promise of hedonism.    During my time in Florence and Rome, I was able to experience coming face to face with transcendant beauty created by  many gifted painters.  Not just Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, but their many apprentices, too.  And not just painting, but literature, architecture, and music has also been created by man over the centuries to glorify God.  We have G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, and  Robert Southwell to name a few authors whose writings use the beauty of language in either its poetic or reasonable character to reveal the truth.

By stark contrast, when beauty is absent, we find darkness, confusion, destruction and despair.  When the towers fell, ten years ago on September 11, 2001, we witnessed the opposite of creation.  We witnessed destruction.  The images that emerged from that tragic day were filled with darkness, confusion, destruction and despair.  In the same way, we pause and we are captivated.  But there is something very different that moment when we behold ugliness. When something is created to glorify God, there will be transcendant beauty.  If we really believe this to be true, we must question how war and acts of war can ever be considered acts that glorify God.  In light of the recent conflicts, Pope Benedict has said that we need to be “asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war’.”  This weekend, as we revisit the tragic events of ten years ago and the attendant images,  I hope we can pause and reflect on how we can resolve the problems in the world without turning to acts of war, but rather by seeking to build up God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

When the first tower was struck ten years ago, I was eight months pregnant with my first born son.  I was also working part-time as an art therapist with children in foster care.   Art therapists use art to encourage healing from trauma.  It occurred to me at that time that we, as a country, had been traumatized.  And we have needed healing.  Since September 11, 2001, we have each done our part to restore beauty to the landscape of our life.  There are so many little ways that we can participate in God’s ongoing creation.  We can start in simple ways each day.  Plant a garden, knit a scarf, paint a picture, play a song on the piano, write a poem and take moments to experience and appreciate beauty wherever you can find it.  And create it where it is lacking.

from New Heaven, New War by Robert Southwell

With tears He fights and wins the field,

His naked breast stands for a shield,

His battering shot are babish cries,

His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,

His martial ensigns, cold and need,

And feeble flesh His warrior’s steed.
Botticelli, Madonna of the Magnificat, Ufizi Musem, Florence